Carrier prepares to go back to sea after virus outbreak

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In this Oct. 15, 2019, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Capt. Carlos Sardiello, who was then the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), addresses sailors during the 244th Navy birthday celebration on the mess decks during a home port visit in San Diego. Sardiello was called on to step in as commander of the Roosevelt after Capt. Brett Crozier was fired for sending an email pleading with commander to act more quickly to address the growing outbreak on the ship. (Petty Officer 3rd Class Zachary Wheeler/U.S. Navy via AP)

WASHINGTON – It’s time to get back to work.

On board the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt, the crew is getting the aircraft carrier ready to head back out to sea. For the ship's commander, Capt. Carlos Sardiello, the road to recovery has been a challenge. For the crew sidelined in Guam for more than a month, it's been an emotional roller coaster.

Sardiello was a former Roosevelt captain when he abruptly returned to the ship in early April to take command after Capt. Brett Crozier was fired for urging faster action to stem the virus outbreak onboard. In an Associated Press interview from the ship late Monday night, Sardiello said he had a simple message to the crew when he came aboard: “We have an unprecedented mission that we have never faced before. We’re gonna face it together.”

More than 4,000 crew members went ashore last month. While more than 2,000 are back on board, at least 1,000 are still testing positive for the virus and remain on land. And the close to 700 crew members who had been protecting and running the Roosevelt and systems aboard have now moved into hotels and other facilities on the island for their quarantine.

When it's time to return to the ship, boarding takes place in slow, meticulous waves. Wearing gloves and masks, the crew members climb onto sterile buses only after they've had two negative tests for the virus. They are screened and checked when they get on the bus and again before they board the ship. And even a simple sniffle can get them turned back.

Those who had stayed on the ship did deep cleaning four times a day. And as they left the ship to go onto Guam for their own quarantine period, the turnover to the clean crew was a bit of a dance. According to Sardiello, those leaving the ship backed out like painters, cleaning as they stepped out of their workspaces. And as they left by one door, the virus-free crew came in another, cleaning as they moved aboard.

The mechanics of the turnover was only one hurdle.

When Sardiello got the call to go to Guam and take over, he contacted a couple of mentors for advice and then used the flight from Norfolk, Virginia, to formulate the message he would give to the crew. Just days before he left for Guam, thousands of Roosevelt sailors had moved off the ship into quarantine. And those still on board had watched as their beloved captain strode off the ship, fired for trying to speak up for their well-being. Videos of sailors chanting Crozier's name as he left went viral online.